The so-called differences between us

The tour bus rolled up I-5 from Bakersfield, CA to Portland, OR and I lounged in the back thinking about when I lived in this part of the country and drove this highway. So many Pacific Northwesterners complained about California drivers while I spent hours fuming at Seattlites for their infuriating timidity behind the wheel.

At the time, I accused my Seattle roommate, Alli Jones, of both driving my car badly and making sweeping generalizations. I didn't realize my own driving skills would plummet after I went back to bike commuting and that I myself would become so fond of gross exaggeration. Sorry, Alli. It's now hard for me not to make fun of the West Coast when I see, for instance, how informal and surfy the Washington Mutual bank machines sound when they can't give their customers money. I've been a Washington Mutual customer in New York and the machines there say, "Out of Service". End of story. But in Seattle?

"Hey there. I'm so sorry I'm not working right now. Catch you later!"

Or this note left on my bed in our Portland hotel:

"Honey, your bed linens are clean but we conserve water by not changing them every day you're here. That's how we do our part to keep Portland beautiful! p.s. for turn down service, just ask nice."

Like I'm going to call housekeeping back, "Hey sweetie pie, can you please turn down my bed? Because my arms are suddenly paralyzed and I can't do it myself. Muah."

I called Jocardo from my Portland hotel. He lives in Washington Heights and teaches in the Bronx and we talked about the divide and mistrust between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans in his school, how people will so often find a difference between themselves and those who are closest to them. This difference matters so greatly to them but maybe not so much to anyone else.

As Jocardo put it, "You know half the world still thinks they're all Mexican."

"Or the west side-east side gap in Cincinnati? There's a big global controversy."

"Or all the jokes Swedes make about Norwegians? You think Kofi Annan's worried about that?"

I told Jocardo about my Norwegian friend in high school, Sofie, who wore a t-shirt illustrated with Norwegian milestones, one of which was the invention of a paperclip. The thought of someone (Johan Vaaler, 1899) having to actually invent the paperclip led us to imagine a world without the clip. Chaos! Papers everywhere!

"Seriously, when was the last time you saw a paperweight? That shit's out of style. It's all about the clip."

Note: During World War II in Norway, buttons with the likeness or initials of the king were banned. In protest people wore paperclips, because the paperclip function was to bind together. This was a protest against the Nazi occupation and wearing a paperclip could have them arrested. This is an example of when regional pride really does make a difference.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jan. 5, 2007--Hey is Ronckytonk OK?